Meet the Mackays - Page 3

With houses designed by Anshen and Allen, Eichler rival Mackay Homes and its MCM neighborhoods are winning new fans today
Meet the Mackays
Mackay Homes partners John Mackay (right) and Lawton Shurtleff, circa early 1970s.
Meet the Mackays
Meet the Mackays
Two photos of Mackay homes, inside and out, from the Sunshine Glen tract in Palo Alto, 1954.
Meet the Mackays
From the original Oakwood sales brochure, a rendering of the 'California Courtyard' from the Mackay Bel Aire model.
Meet the Mackays
Cover of the Fairmede Mackay development's sales brochure, 1957.

It's more likely that Mackay was inspired to go modern by working with successful developer Earl 'Flat Top' Smith on some of Smith's modest modern tracts in West Contra Costa County in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The Mackay family history says Mackay partnered with a major builder in this area, and that builder was probably Smith.

An October 21, 1949 photo in Smith's archive shows a group of men in celebratory mood in front of a brand-new flattop home in Smith's Parchester Village, just north of Richmond. Among them are Smith, John Mackay, and Mackay's brother Dick.

Whether as a partner, employee, associate, or attentive observer, Mackay would have learned from Smith how to build a low-cost, well-built home with a waterproof concrete slab and flat roof. (Eichler, by the way, also took inspiration from Smith, using some of Smith's plans for his very early houses.)

It's also clear that Mackay and Shurtleff knew and admired Eichler's homes. Why else would they employ his architects?

What really galls fans of the Mackay homes is the story told by the late Ned Eichler, Joe's son: Anshen and Allen went to work with Mackay after the mercurial Bob Anshen and Joe Eichler tangled once too often. Later, Joe visited a Mackay construction site, saw Bob there, and remarked that Bob was letting Mackay get away with designs Eichler would never have allowed.

The result? Not a fight but immediate rapprochement. "[Anshen] looked at my father," Ned said, "he had an ugly face but a big smile, he said 'Joe, that's right. You wouldn't let me [design homes like this].' And my father melted."

Anshen and Allen returned to the Eichler fold.

Stephen Estes, who lives in Maywood and has promoted the Mackay legacy for a decade, believes this tale is myth, noting that Mackay homes won several of the same American Institute of Architects awards that were given to Eichler. "I regard these homes as well architected mid-century modern homes," Estes has said.

Anshen himself spoke highly of the homes, and of Mackay as well.

"I think Mr. Mackay is to be complimented for his conscientious search of ways to bring better housing to more people," Anshen said in 1955 at the opening of the homes in Maywood, and Oakwood in Mountain View.

One of the great virtues of the Mackay homes—their simplicity—has proven also to be one of their banes.

In the main, these unpretentious, generally 1,300 to 1,600-square-foot homes, with their blank facades and low profiles, lack both the stylish panache of later Eichler homes and the iconic Eichler name. They are elegant, and have a quiet, inner beauty. But in Silicon Valley, where buyers have money and like to live big, it's all too tempting to some to buy a Mackay and do away with it.